What does Gen Z want?

Photo: @BBONUSP via Twenty20
Oct 21, 2021

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

Tech savvy Gen-Z has unprecedented power to influence not only its peers but prior generations. But it’s important not to label them, according to IRI’s white paper, “Understand Me, Don’t Define Me.”

Jennifer Pelino, a co-author and EVP of the IRI Media Center of Excellence, told FR Buyer the racial and ethnic diversity of this group of 11- to 25-year-olds gives them deep and genuine acceptance of what makes people unique. Rather than trying to conform to social, societal or political constructs, they embrace individualism.

“They are digital natives, and have different expectations in how they think about society and the political construct,” says Ms. Pelino. “They think about rights, equality and sustainability. They think in a way that is more gender-neutral. Anything perceived as opportunistic marketing is flatly rejected by Gen Z.”

After taste and price, the next most important factors in deciding which brand of food or non-alcoholic beverage to buy are: 

  • Cares about the environment/sustainability (38 percent). 
  • Understands what I want/need (34 percent). 
  • Feels authentic (24 percent). 

As one Gen Z focus group member put it, “It’s all about efficacy and authenticity with brands. Efficacy lends authenticity, rather than brands standing for certain ideals because they sound good.”

Three of IRI’s recommendations for connecting follow:

  1. Understand their needs and motivations, notably that they are consumers who are multidimensional and ever-changing. Create a feedback loop that allows you to consistently connect with them — and make sure you are able to integrate those learnings into their actual behaviors to fully understand how their needs and motivations translate to their omnichannel retailer and brand choices.
  2. Be transparent and authentic when messaging and connecting. Strive to stand for something good, whether it is a societal message or one of sustainability.
  3. Meet them where they are, focusing on video, Advanced Television and gaming. Prioritize the platforms that influence them, including TikTok, Snap, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. Brands can use Deterministic Purchase-Based Audiences to help them find and create the right audiences that connect the right messaging in the platforms they view.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What suggestions would you have around connecting and driving loyalty with Gen-Z? How does the approach differ when it comes to food brands versus other categories?

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10 Comments on "What does Gen Z want?"

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Michael La Kier

Maybe it’s the “cynical Gen X” in me but, while the research offers fresh insights into Gen Z, it’s a little old school to market to a generational cohort in 2021. Furthermore, asking a large group what they care about versus actually delving into purchase behavior and testing in the real world seems a little naive. The first key takeaway should stop at “understand their needs and motivations,” which is the key for any audience (size of one or size of many), rather than making sweeping statements.

Melissa Minkow

The fact that this is a price-sensitive, frugal generation often gets overlooked. To connect with Gen Z and to earn their repeat business, it’s important that brands make themselves extremely affordable.

Neil Saunders

From all the focus groups we have run with Gen Z, one of the most interesting traits that comes through is that of openness. As consumers, they are very open to trying new things and experimenting with different flavors, ingredients and functional additions such as adaptogens. This is also a global generation, so they take their cues from international markets and foods as much as they do from within their home country. That makes innovation and newness very important for any CPG brand trying to capture attention. However Gen Z also expects openness from the products they buy. That means transparency around ingredients, sustainability, sourcing and so forth. And it’s no good trying to greenwash or be fake, this generation is savvy and smart and sees through it right away.

Jenn McMillen

Regardless of age, race or gender, we’re all consumers with needs. Instead of trying to reverse engineer the marketing process (bottom of funnel), why not figure out the best market for your product or service (top of funnel) and go that route?

Lisa Goller

To engage Gen Zs and earn loyalty, companies can offer:

  • Community: Online social hubs and in-person events help Gen Zs gain a sense of belonging among peers with common values, interests and lifestyles.
  • Empathy: Deeply listening to these young consumers yields insights ranging from topics they care about to their underlying tone, emotions and unmet needs.
  • Purpose: As the most diverse generation in history, Gen Zs care about inclusivity, as well as sustainability, equal rights and rejecting the complacency behind “the way we’ve always done things.”
  • Marketing that matches their needs: Consumer-centric, highly-visual content that entertains, inspires, teaches this cohort will resonate.
  • Relatability. Gen Zs sense insincerity, and they prefer real people to polished perfection.

More than other categories, food brands may appeal to Gen Zs who seize opportunities to experiment with innovative and unique products. Gen Z represents a rainbow of ethnicities and food offers an exciting, scrumptious way to learn more about other cultures.

Doug Garnett

There is no evidence that a focus on Gen Z connections will increase purchases – especially when basing it on an assumption that they have a Sir Galahad-like righteousness.

Like all retail there’s no mystery here. They are young and also lack money. So they’ll want good products at a reasonable price of the product types they need.

Paula Rosenblum

There’s no doubt it’s time for retailers (and everyone else) to recognize that Gen Z (and Millennials, really) care about the environment, are color blind and, like everyone else in the industrialized world, want what they want as soon as they can have it.

I think they are more store-centric than Millennials were, and I also think we are caught in some weird time warp talking about how “different” the next generation is since time immemorial instead of just giving them what they want and need. That transcends food, plastics, clothes and everything else they buy.

It’s not a different species. It’s young humans who have been through some weird stuff in their lives and are not looking at a spectacular future at the moment. Meet them where they are, not just online — but in their beings.

Evan Snively
Evan Snively
Director of Planning & Loyalty, Moosylvania
1 year 3 months ago

If you want to connect and understand how to drive loyalty, you can’t just poll them – you need to hire them. I’m 32 and the world they “live” in is even hard for me to wrap my head around sometimes. The platforms and trends they interact with are changing at a pace that is unlike anything that has existed before and if you don’t have people that are truly in the moment, the authenticity — and the opportunity — will be lost.


Gen Z is very unique in regards to the generations before it. Authenticity is a very important factor in this generation. Everyone strives to have their own voice, to be heard and to be authentically themselves.

The best way to reach Gen Z is to try to understand us. We want to be respected for our beliefs and want to connect with the products we are buying, personally. Also using the same technologies that we are used to is a smart move as well. The article mentioned TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram etc. People in my generation, including myself, use those apps 24/7 so that is the easiest way to reach us and grab our attention.

Also, creating products that carry a societal message or creating a product that is sustainable and affordable is a very attractive factor to our generation. Gen Z cares more about societal issues from a younger age than any other generations have before. Being transparent is the key to gaining the respect and attention of Gen Z.

Ryan Mathews

First, I don’t believe that demography is destiny, nor do I believe that a kid growing up in New Canaan with a hedge fund manager for a mother and a private equity executive as a father shares much with a kid growing up in a lower income, single parent household in the central city of Detroit beyond an age cohort. So, it’s arguable that Gen Z is a marketing construct that never mirrored reality. “They” care about the environment? So did the Boomers. I mean who created Earth Day? They demand authenticity? So did Boomers, and Gen X, and Gen Y (later Millennials). They want “organics”? So do Boomers, Xers, Millennials.

Anyway, you get the point.

So, the formula for driving loyalty and connecting with Gen Z is the same as it is for every cohort: know your customers as real, individual, human beings; respect them; encourage communication; listen more than talk; and execute on what you learn.

"Regardless of age, race or gender, we’re all consumers with needs."

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